I never even heard the shouts from the neighbors. Sometimes, while working as I do, the headset I wear can muffle things to the point where I don't notice them. It's better than sitting in the office, where the drone of others around me makes it difficult to concentrate. It's a double-edged sword though, as it can also make me oblivious to danger, especially since being partially deaf in one ear drowns out noise even more.
I do keep the blinds open in my home office so I can see the comings and goings of people and cars. It was the sudden appearance of two fire engines outside my window that startled me a little, as we live on a quiet street. They passed by me, headed down the block, and I took a second to put down my headset and take a look outside. It takes a lot to shock me. What I saw two houses down on my side of the street damn near gave me a heart attack.
My neighbors' house was aflame. It was something out of a movie. The entire roof was engulfed, flames shooting out of the top in a Dante-esque nightmare. I quickly called into work, told them that the house next to me was on fire, (as I mistakenly first thought it was the house immediately next to me) and I bolted out the door, out not only see what was going on, but to hose down the side of my house, if needed.
I found a bunch of neighbors outside staring in disbelief. This is quite a lovely home, and the man and his wife that own it are very nice people. I approached the neighbor who lives right next to me and asked if anyone knew if they were home? She didn't though her and another neighbor had banged on the front door before the smoke forced them back.
There was no answer to their repeated hammering at the front door.
There was a bush near the front steps that had caught fire, after an upstairs window blew out from the heat. The first floor was not on fire, and the firefighters barreled into the front door, dragging hoses, and axes, their air packs making them look like a group of Darth Vaders . Their mission however, was for good, not evil. All we could do at that point was stand around and hope that no one was home.
I responded to many fires when I was a paramedic. I have treated burn patients, and the smell of burning flesh and hair is something I can still very vividly recall. It is one of those things that leaves a mental fingerprint that is never erased. In addition to decaying bodies, I hope to never encounter anything like that again. The last thing I wanted to do was to encounter it in the form of one of my neighbors.
The fire was feeding on the wood timbers, drywall, and personal belongings inside the house; flames raced from the left side of the house to the right. It ate voraciously at the roof, and as it punctured the vinyl siding and roofing shingles, there was suddenly a burst of water that shot forth upwards through the roof. The battle was engaged; primitive elements vs. modern technology. The tower ladder truck raised its bucket, and a second front was formed, directed towards the roof itself. After about 20 minutes, the fire started to die down, and the area became engulfed with thick smoke. The acrid smell of burning materials stung my nose.
I suspected that no one was home, as there didn't seem to be any frenzied calls for an ambulance. I could hear the chatter on the firefighter's radios, and there was no talk of anyone being found inside. At about the 30-minute mark, the neighbors pulled up in their car, just on the other side of the cross-street that borders their home. Relief was spread across all our faces.
They were surprisingly calm, but as I came to find out through another neighbor, this was typical of them. They simply didn't get rattled, and after hearing about what they had been through this past year, it was even more surprising. The wife has lost three members of her family in the past year, including her sister and mother. This was for her, as a certain monarch once remarked, an annuis horriblus.
I don't know what they are going to do with the house. They are an older couple; the kids are out of the house, so if they just took the insurance money and started anew, I couldn't blame them. I guess time will tell. One thing is for sure; the house is totaled. What the fire didn't consume, the smoke and water damaged beyond repair. I did find out that the husband, who is a musician, was able to save six of the nine vintage guitars that he owned.
After all was said and done, I began to think on the obvious. "What if that had been me?," I pondered. It was a blessing that they were not at home, and as they told me, things, for the most part, can be replaced. There are parts of a life that cannot be replaced. There are memories in a home that, once they are blown to embers, are gone forever. I'm not sure I could be as calm about losing those memories. They are part of who I am. I am beginning to think that finding a fireproof storage unit might be a wise idea. I don't live in the past, but I do cherish it.
It's time to take action. This all happened this past Monday night. I don't want to come home on another Monday night and find my home destroyed, and my past obliterated.